A Virgin and Child, by Hans Memmeling; in the Academy of Bruges

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1849 October
Rhyme: abbaaccadefefd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Gail Lynn Goldberg, “Rossetti's Sonnet on ‘A Virgin and Child by Hans Memmeling’: Considering a Counterpart”, Victorian Poetry 24 (1986), 229-243.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1911 text.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet registers the importance of early Flemish art to DGR's experience and to his ideas about striking out on a new artistic course. During their trip to Bruges and Ghent in the fall of 1849, DGR and Holman Hunt were deeply moved, in particular by the work of Van Eyck and Memling. Writing back to James Collinson, DGR was eloquent on what he called Memling's "greatest production", the St. John's Altarpiece in the Hospital of St. John in Bruges (see WMR, Letters I. 84 , letter of 25 October 1849). The Hospital is now the Hans Memlingmuseum.

So far as this sonnet is concerned, however, while scholars still often see it as an illustration of the left panel of the Hospital of St. John's altarpiece, it is almost certainly a response to another picture altogether: an outer wing of the Altarpiece of the Baptism of Christ by the Belgian master Gerard David. DGR saw the latter in the museum of the Academy of Bruges, which he also visited in 1849. The painting was commonly attributed to Memling in the nineteenth century. The attribution to David was not made until many years after DGR's visit to Bruges.

See also “For a Marriage of St. Katherine, by the same”.

Textual History: Composition

As DGR's letter to Collinson indicates, the sonnet was written in late October 1849. The only known manuscript is a copy made by WMR. This is an important document because it preserves a set of revisions that represent DGR's later changes to the work. The autograph manuscript from which these revisions derive was certainly available to WMR when he was editing his brother's work for his first (1886) collected edition, because that text gives the revised version of the sonnet, not the 1850. Germ version.

Printing History

The sonnet was first published as part of the group of the “Sonnets for Pictures” in The Germ no. 4 (30 April 1850). It was printed next among the 1886 Collected Edition's “Sonnets for Pictures” and collected thereafter.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 41-1849.raw.xml